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10-year-old Brandon youth earns his stripes as referee

Nicholas Nemeth started playing soccer when he was only 5, but now at the grand old age of 10 he is participating in the sport as a licensed referee. He earned his associate referee's license from the United States Soccer Federation by successfully completing a 100-question test last year. Each year he must retake a test to continue officiating.

Until he reaches 19, Nicholas will be limited to officiating for players younger than he who are part of the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League (BAYSL).

Youngsters who referee is nothing new in youth soccer leagues, especially one the size of BAYSL. It has more than 60 games each Saturday during the four-month December through March season.

Numerous teen-agers have been licensed within BAYSL in the past 15 years, according to Rick Nemeth, Nicholas' father and current BAYSL president. However, he remembers only one other child attaining a license as young as age 9. That youngster now 10 also, is Michael Salvog, a friend of Nicholas, who also officiates.

"I like being a referee because I like being the head of things," Nicholas said. "Since I like soccer so much, officiating on the field helps me to be a real part even when I am not playing."

During the season, Nicholas plays one game each Saturday with his under-12 team, the Kicks. Then he referees a minimum of three games and has officiated as many as six in one day.

Each Saturday he is on the field by 8 a.m. and often doesn't get home until 9:30 p.m.

However, he is not alone. His father also officiates, and coaches a team, in addition to his BAYSL administrative duties. Nicholas' mom, Linda, and 9-year-old sister, Dana, try to fit lunch in for the family in between matches.

Dana plays goalie during the summer league.

To occupy his time in between playing, lunch break and officiating, Nicholas likes to watch older kids play soccer.

"I like to watch the older teams play because there is so much better competition," he said.

As the number of youngsters participating in BAYSL continues to increase (from 400 to 1,400 in the past 15 years) more officials will be needed to maintain fair and orderly competition, according to the senior Nemeth.

Since the referees must be licensed and they work as volunteers, training and qualifying some of the interested youths to help with the job seems to be an acceptable option to keep the sport growing.

Nicholas is not only interested and committed to helping, he seeks advice on how to improve as an official.

"When I have a break and know he is officiating, I observe to see if I can give him any advice during halftime or after matches," the senior Nemeth said. "Other adult referees do the same thing every week to help guide all of the youngsters who are officiating. The coaches seem to have more respect for the kids refereeing when they see adult referees observing and guiding on their break time."

Nicholas also receives input from coaches. But so far he has only been challenged once.

"No one has yelled at me so far, but I did get challenged on a missed call once last season," Nicholas said. "A coach asked me about a missed shoving call which I didn't see because it was behind my back. But he waited until halftime and he was polite. Sometime when I'm watching the action on the ball, it is hard to see things going on behind my back."

Nicholas is also active in other activities at school and in his community. The fifth-grade Seffner Elementary student is a road guard safety patrolman each morning and evening at one of the intersections on Kings Way Road in north Seffner.

He also plays on the 105-pound Brandon Cowboys little league football team. He plays some at running back and wide receiver, but his biggest contribution is at place kicker. He has kicked a 33-yard field goal, good for someone his age.

During the five months when he isn't playing football or soccer, he waits for the time to don his vertical black-and-white shirt once again.

"In the off-season I like to spend time at a farm in Lithia," Nicholas said.

Rugby: Members of the Tampa Bay Rugby Football Club will be playing its annual match with cross-bay rival St. Petersburg Pelicans in Brandon today.

The match is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. on the Heather Lakes Park field, located behind the Publix at the intersection of Providence and Lumsden roads in southwest Brandon.

Admission is free.

Triathlon: Brandon triathletes are invited to compete in the second annual family triathlon benefit at Hunter's Green Country Club in Tampa at 8 a.m., Nov. 11.

All proceeds for the event will benefit a Gainesville based children's cancer research center.

Entry fee is $25 per person through Nov. 9. Then the fee is $30. For additional information contact Teresa Chastain at 229-6566.